Greasy Pole: Goodbye (?) to All These
We are close now to that minute or two at the ballot boxes when we have an opportunity to state what we think of the capitalist social system and its wars, famine, and diseases amidst its class privileges. Nationally the voting papers will be missing some famous names. Like Sir Peter (‘my biggest mistake in politics was to listen to Mrs Thatcher’) Tapsell, the Father Of The House. And like Austin (‘… even if we selected a raving alcoholic sex paedophile we wouldn’t lose Grimsby’) Mitchell. So where, among this confusion, can we find Aidan Burley the MP (for a short while yet) for Cannock Chase where in 2010 he clocked up the country’s biggest swing –– of 14 percent – to the Tories and who is such good pals with David Cameron that they are compelled to greet each other with a High Five whenever they meet to discuss how they are straightening out the kinks in British capitalism. Burley is 36 and since arrival in the Commons he has been a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. But it has not been all easy going for him.
During his time as a student at Oxford he managed to fit in his studies of theology with involvement in an ‘incident’ on a dance floor which led to his being ejected from his St. John’s College accommodation. Another event contributed to his decision – or perhaps his surrender to pressure from outside – to stand down from Parliament. In December 2011 he organised a stag party for a friend – Old Etonian Mark Fournier – at a crowded posh restaurant in a French ski resort. The slim chances that this would be a happy, peaceable celebration were not realized when Fournier arrived in a black Nazi SS uniform – arranged by Burley – which he flaunted full face to the camera. The guests enlivened the evening with Nazi salutes and chants of ‘Mein Fuhrer, Himmler, Eichmann’. When it was time for toasts Burley was among those raising a glass to ‘… and if we’re perfectly honest, to the ideology and thought process of the Third Reich’. Unluckily for him and his gruesome mates their behaviour was reported in The Mail On Sunday. There was an internal enquiry by the Tory Party at which Burley denied his active participation but the evidence proved otherwise. Cameron had to face the inevitable and remove his incautious friend from the job as a PPS. A French Court fined Fournier the equivalent of £1250.
Aidan Burley’s fragmented political career is not typical of the MPs who are leaving the Commons this May. Shaun Woodward was first elected in 1997, at first as a Conservative in the safest of seats at Witney (now represented by none other than David Cameron) and then, after being sacked from the Front Bench for voting against instructions on Clause 28, as a Labour MP. It might have been expected that he would do what in the Commons is regarded as the decent thing and resign to fight a by-election under his new colours (like the two recent defectors to UKIP) but he chose to ignore the pressures from his former colleagues and was rewarded by Labour’s leadership with the candidature for St. Helens South in the 2001 election. This was rather different from Witney, for St. Helens was still suffering from the closure of its coal mines and regularly ran up Labour majorities of well over 20,000. For Woodward in 2001 it fell to under 9,000. But Tony Blair was delighted, regarding this recruit as evidence of New Labour’s appeal, a kind of paragon ‘…clever, articulate…economically and socially liberal…genuine’ (he did not mention that he was also very rich). The lower benches were less exuberant; Chris Mullen, representing a Sunderland seat, was pretty blunt: ‘…one of New Labour’s vilest stitch-ups … made my flesh creep’ and on another occasion ‘The awful Shaun Woodward, his every word a sneer’ while on the opposite benches Michael Heseltine forecast that Woodward would ‘… soon become a dot on the horizon’. Among this passion of outrage and mockery in 2007 Gordon Brown elevated Woodward to Northern Ireland Secretary.
Now that Woodward is leaving the Commons, he will probably have to sell his modest house in St Helens, leaving him with the choice of six other homes in places such as the Hamptons and Mustique, which vary in price up to about £7 million. He is married to Camilla Davan Sainsbury from the family who have made their fortune through flogging supermarket food to the wage class in society. Sainsburys are unlikely to be supplying refreshments to the monthly meetings of the Sybil Club of which Woodward is a founder member. The club was set up with the objective of its members gorging themselves on food and drink in honour of ‘interesting’ MPs. As an example of a particularly ‘interesting’ meeting, one member described an evening at one of Woodward’s London houses closing with them all ‘completely stupefied’ but relieved that Woodward had a butler who would feed the parking meter in the morning.
Not all of the MPs leave the Commons willingly, congratulating themselves on a job well done. Two of them – Ann MacIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) and Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) have been deselected – a polite word for kicked out – by the popular vote of their constituency members. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) transformed himself from Labour to Independent after initiating some drunken punch-ups in the House of Commons bar. Then there are those whose motives we may speculate about because they are The Disappointed Ones, who once nursed an ambition to be their Party Leader. Like Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) and Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles). In this company William Hague is best left unremarked. All of them endured by virtue of the delusion that they represented a remedy for the chaos and vanity of capitalist politics. Like all those who by some means remain as our Parliamentary rulers. None of them will be missed.